Archive for the 'Our Journey' Category

Routa 40 and the wind starts in Patagonia

Posted by on Oct 19 2008 | 14 Argentina 08/09, English

Where is that “altiplano shape?”
The Marin family from the casa de ciclista in Salta had been incredible. We could stay as long as we wanted to prepare for the continuation of our journey. The only thing we could do in return, was cooking for them in turn with the two japanese ciclists who were staying there as well.

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But for me it was necessary to leave, as soon as we got my back wheel from Switzerland. I had asthma from the many animals and was coughing, sneezing and catching my breath all day long. Even a few weeks after we had left, I would still get asthma attacks when ever we had a minor uphill or some head wind.
The first day we only made it 40km far. Then our legs needed to rest. We camped at a complejo municipal with a swimming pool, though the pool was empty for it is spring and the air can still be quite fresh.

For a while we made about 50km per day. This was enough to make some distance, but in a way that we enjoyed the ride and didn’t bike more than a few hours. We had enough time to take breaks and give Chan time to explore and play.

In Cafayate we took a day off to hang out and eat helados. These first weeks we needed to give our bodies many breaks. That good shape we had from the altiplano and all those incredible passes in Peru half a year ago had disappeared and we are feeling our legs even after a short day of biking.

Desert and gravel
Past Cafayate the wind started to blow. It was either head- or sidewind or it started out as tailwind and slowly turned into headwind. Weren’ t other cyclists telling us the winds start in Patagonia? Anyway, the argentinians are telling us now, that on Routa 40 the wind starts blowing from Mendoza northwards in the month of october!

The flowers on the roadside, the trees, grass and wineyards disappeared shortly past Cafayate and we entered desert and thorn land. Chan loved it and got his cars out as soon as we stopped for the night. With sticks and rocks he drew roads into the sand and soon was covered with dust. From now on we had sand and dust on and in everything. Somethimes the wind didn’t slow down at night and our dinner was enriched with crunchy sand kernels. It wasn’t easy to find spots sheltered from the sun and wind and many times we put up our tent quickly under a thorny bush and fled inside as soon as it was up to get out of the wind or away from mosquitos. Luckily our tent is storm proof and stands up to the blows like a rock. Poor Florian always needs a warm dinner and so he went outside into the dust storms again a few times to cook some pasta.

We were moving quite fast, the road was straight and flat. Ups, what’s this? No more pavement! Our first “ripio road” was pretty sandy and soft and had a nasty washboard surface. We slowed down very much. I wasn’t prepared for it although I knew it was coming. I got into a grumpy mood. How did we manage to ride all those dirt roads in Peru and Bolivia? I just wanted to get back onto nice and smooth pavement again!

Flo lost a screw on his front rack, but after about 40km we rolled onto pavement again all in one piece. Not so on our second dirt road a few days later. The surface was better, much harder than on the first piece. We weren’t faster though because the road was going uphill, in parts steeply. On the last few kilometers, where the road was flat again, I suddenly lost one pannier and one of my lowriders entangled in the spokes. Flo got it straigt again, but after a few 100 meters, it broke completely. It is a good thing, that I have a front rack as well, on which we now put my panniers and I had to ride the last few 100 km with my panniers high up. The lowriders, I can’t use anymore, we will have to get new ones done.

I don’t want to go to Africa!
Chan enjoys travelling again and he is indeed very content. The trailer is a bit small now, but we changed the interior, so he’s got a bit more space. The first few days he ignored his new bike and said, he would only be riding it, once he was five. But suddenly one day he wanted to get on it. He was first putting his feet high up onto the frame, not using his pedales and Flo wasn’t allowed to take a picture. But then he started to use his pedales, first very cautiously. Next time on his bike he was pedaling for 10km, playing to be a fast train’s driver.

One night I asked him how he is liking to be travelling again. “It is good, I’m happy. But are we on our big journey again?”, he answered. “Yes.”, I said. “Ah, show me on the map, where we are going to next. And when we are finished in this country, we are going to New Zealand, right?” So I explained, that we are thinking of going to New Zealand, or maybe Africa. “No mama! I don’t want to go to Africa! There are tigers and lions and they want to eat us!” Since then he is always asking if we were in Africa yet, and if there were any tigers around, before getting out of his trailer. Somethimes he wants to get back into the trailer from his bike, because he saw the shadow of a tiger or a dragon in the bush.
In the trailer he is drawing lots of maps with roads we already travelled on or will be taking.

The first 1300km and over 35’000km
The day before we left Salta, I was wondering, how it would be back on the road, not knowing where we would spend the night, discovering new terrain day after day. The first few kilometers on the bike felt a bit unbalanced, but already outside of the city it was just normal again, the bike is almost a part of my body! Flo and I have been riding our bikes for over 35’000km now, so they are pretty much a part of ourselves. Chan has been riding with us for about 20’000km!

Most of those first 1300km we have travelled now were through dry desert land though, and we’ve seen quite some land like this by now. We are looking foreward to greener landscapes, trees, shade, grass and rivers or lakes to play in. Another 1000km and we won’t need to transport 10 to 15 liters of water per day anymore. While Flo and I are counting the kilometers until we reach more fertile land, Chan is counting the days until his birthday. We made a calendar and every night he makes a cross and talks about the presents he will get. And since my birthday is a bit before his, he offered me to help unwrap my presents. In Mendoza now, we are preparing for our two birthdays eating up pies and ice cream in advance.

4 comments for now

And here we are again!

Posted by on Sep 16 2008 | 14 Argentina 08/09, English

Saturday august 30th was my last day at work. Flo and Chan came to the VeloPlus store and we bought our last parts of equipment. Every day of the coming week was planned out with packing, storing some of our belongings with different family members, good bye dinners and my sister’s wedding. Two das of that week we also gave slide presentations at the EuroBike, the biggest bike exhibition of Europe, at the stand of our trailer’s company.

Monday September 8th we got up at 6am. We got a ride to the train station and started our 3 days journey back to Argentina. We checked in our baggage at the airport and then went to my mother’s place for luch, where all of my family came togehter to say good bye. Our flight was at 5pm that afternoon and now we were moving towards Salta for the next 50 hours by plane and bus.
When we left Argentina 8 months ago, it felt so close to Europe, so much better off than Peru or Bolivia. Arriving at the airport of Buenos Aires, nothing at all resembled Europe, even less at the bus terminal with all the garbage lying around, the luggage carriers competiting for customers and the small stalls with plastic toys, chips and cola. Out of the bus window we looked into barren winter landscape. Everything was brown. Only here and there gave the light green spring leaves some colour and the further north we came, the more trees were blooming in purple, orange, yellow and red. At the outskirts of Rosario, a city 200- 300km north of Buenos Aires, I shuddered, when realizing, that people really lived in those tin- and cartboard houses, some of them even only built with dirty cloths, right on top of the city dump. Small smokey fires burnt here and there and children and dogs were searching through the garbage, looking for something usable.

Chan travelled very well. He slept most of the flight and the bus ride. If awake, he was content watching children’s movies or playing with his new cars. It was nice warm, when we stepped out of the bus in Salta, but the next day was cloudy and it cooled down since. Now we are wearing three layers and I even got my woolen cap out.

All our cartboard boxes we brought here are empty, our new panniers packed and ready to go. Chan’s bike is put together, the new axel is installed on the trailer. Flo’s bike got his front wheel and bottom bracket replaced and we would all be ready to start cycling again, if not for my back wheel. When taking out the rim tape, to replace it, I discoverd cracks in the rim, we didn’t noteice, when preparing our bikes for storage 8 months ago. There are no Mavic or Sunrims here in Argentina. So we decided to call VeloPlus and ask them to send us a back wheel. For this we are now waiting here in the casa de ciclista of the Marin family in Salta.

6 comments for now

Switzerland

Posted by on Jun 25 2008 | 15 Switzerland 2008, English

I haven’t been writing an update for a long time. Things have been happening fast here and there is always changes. Florian started to work 3 days after we arrived at my sister’s place. He was thrown right into working life and didn’t have time to think, while I was home with Chan and had to figure out what to do. Should I organize slide shows or work as well? I realized quickly, that I wouldn’t be able to organize a professional show with musik and what else. There is just not enough time for preparation and promotion in half a year. So I was looking for work as well, and found a 60% job in a store that sells everything around bicycles. Now, what should Chan be doing? I finally found a space for him in a forest play group, where he was going once a week for a morning. It was really hard to find a space in a daycare, but finally, right before the start of my job we found a montessori daycare who was going to have space. But when we wanted to sign a contract, the owner wasn’t happy with Chan going there for only five months anymore and suddenly she had a problem with him only going for two days per week. We had to organize our families to look after Chan for the first month I was working. Somethimes switching from Winterthur to Basel for a night.

Carnival in Basel, Switzerland

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Then we also had to move out of my sisters place. She had found a new place with her boyfriend, where we had no space anymore. Friends of ours asked around for us as well and that’s how we came to live in Rüti, close to my workplace, with Anet, Hansi, Lorenzo, eight, and Benjamin, two, who are like brothers for Chan. They were living in an old farmhouse on the outskirts of a small town. It was paradise for Chan and for us. I found a pre-kindergarden five minutes away from my workplace. The owner there is half peruvian. She is speaking spanish with Chan and he is enjoying two and a half days of learning and playing with other kids, though sometimes he doesn’t want to go and asks when we will be leaving again.

House in Rüti

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Vacation with his granddad
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Great grandfather

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Grandmother

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Again we had to move. The family we are still living with bought a house in the same town. A farmer came with his traktor and heywagon and all the furniture was moved with two loads. Cleaning was taking two three days and still isn’t completely finished. The new house is even bigger and closer to the train station. This gives us a bit more time in the morning.

Soon Chan will go to the mountains on holyday with his grandfather and cousin. My oldest sister will give birth to her first child in August where I will be her Doula and my second sister will have her wedding a few days before we leave.
We did give two digital slide shows and both times had around 60 people watching. With the donations we could buy much needed equipment for our further journey.

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5 comments for now

Changes

Posted by on Feb 03 2008 | 13 Chile 07/ 08, 14 Argentina 08/09, English

Metamorphosis of landscape and climat

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We wanted to get up early to be able to bike at least for the first little while in cooler temperatures. But as it turns out so often, we didn’t make it out of the campground before 9 o’clock. The sun was intense though not too hot. The road led straight towards the mountains with no curve. From San Pedro de Atacama we now had to climb 2400 meters up to the first of four over 4500m passes and this within only 40km. The first 10km were flat and then it got steep. After 20km I was exhausted. We took break after break, but by km 25 I couldn’t ride anymore. I had to push my bike which was loaded down with food for six days. Luckily some people we had met on the campground were brining most of our water to kilometer post 30 for us, so we only carried about 10 liters of the 40 liters water we had to bring on that lonely 300km stretch of road lying ahead of us. After 160km, at the border to Argentina, we would be able to fill up on water again. But we needed three or four days to get there, over another 4800, 4700 and 4300m meter pass through the driest place in the world, the Atacama Desert. The only water up in this vulcanic area is salt water.

We barely made it to kilometer post 30. We needed an hour for the last two kilometers! Chan was walking, somethimes helping me to push my bike. Flo came back for me now and then to take my bike for a few hundred kilometers, so that I could rest my arms a bit. When we had made it to our water, we first needed to sit down and rest. We were watching cars and trucks go by effortlessly. Finally we cooked spaghetti, put up our tent and went to bed. It was getting cold up there, close to 4000m. It was New Year’s eve, but we saved our bottle of red chilenian wine for another night.

The wind gained on strength throughout the night and in the morning it blew into our faces. Now we had to carry our water ourselves, so the bikes were even heavier than the day before! The road was still incredibly steep and the wind didn’t want to settle down. I started to push my bike. Flo was as usual riding. The wind almost brushed me from the road. My legs and arms were hurting from the day before. I was tired. But Flo kept on going. I couldn’t push my bike beyond the first kilometer. This was going nowhere. We needed to bike at least 40km a day for our water supply to last until we would reach the border. We had only made 30km the day before and I was exhausted after only one kilometer this morning. The pass was after some 40km from San Pedro de Atacama, that meant at least 10km more to climb. I couldn’t do it. I yelled at Flo to wait for me. I wanted to get a lift up to the first pass. Flo wanted to ride. We were in a pretty bad mood for quite a while. Finally I got a ride for me and Chan and all our luggage but Flo had to ride his empty bike. So we both got what we wanted! Chan and I were dropped off just a few hundred meters below the pass, where we waited for Flo. Even without the weight of the panniers it took him over an hour for those 10km. I was glad I didn’t ride. From here the wind lost some of its strenght and the road curved its way up and down through vulcanic desert landscape on much gentler grades. We made it 50km further.

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On the other side of the mountains we had had the most beautiful warm and sunny weather without any clouds in sight, up here though, back on the southern end of the altiplano, the clouds were back, but we didn’t get rained on yet.

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When we had made it up the last 4800m pass before the Argentinian border it felt really good! Finally I started to see the end of those months riding through deserts, dust, sand and salt, grey, brown and white colours. A different climat was waiting for us, soon we would be whizzing down into a green, fragrant argentine summer. I longed for trees and flowers, some grass, some life. Rolling down that pass somehow promised more than just another uphill through desolate landscape.

Even the rocks on this downhill were different, they were sticking out of the sandy ground vertically, shaped by wind and weather into oddly looking figures.

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We stopped to fix a flat. Flo looked up to the pass we had just left and said:” It loods like some rain up there!” and for sure black clouds were wrapping around the peaks in our backs.

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Before us was an another salt lake and barren landscape as far as we could see. No trees or bushes not even big rocks to look for shelter. So we kept riding and the clouds came closer, thunder begann its growling tune and the first lightenings made me feel extremely uncomfortable on my bike. There was nowhere to go. Finally Flo exclaimed that the most secure move for us would be pitching our tent at the foot of that hill we had just reached now. Thunderstorms were now in front of us as well, actually all around and any of them could catch us at any moment.

Chan waited in his trailer while Flo and I put up the tent in record time. Then I unpacked the bikes and carried our stuff to the tent, while Flo parked and locked our bikes a few hundrerd meters away from us. I went inside to roll out our thermarest matresses and to distract Chan from the thunders.

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Flo installed the stormstrings because the wind had picked up now, then he came inside as well and in the same moment the rain and hail lashed down onto our fragile home. We needed something for dinner. I suggested bread and olives. I didn’t want to get outside anymore. But Flo said he needed spaghetti. So he went out in a calmer moment and turned on the stove. But as soon as it was running the wind picked up again and with it the rain as well. It took him probably five tries until he could finish cooking. It was nice to get something warm into our stomachs.

The world around us was white the next morning.

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We could still see the clouds on the horizon but above our heads the sky was blueish. We followed the road up onto a plateau from where we enjoyed beautiful views onto freshly snowed on peaks above 6000m. The wind wasn’t too strong yet and we made it to the border before noon. it was almost shocking to see so many people there after the isolation of the past three days. Chan and I waited outside, watching the many tourist groups from adventure jeep trecks and tour buses. Flo waited in line to get our passports stamped.

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This part of Argentina was no different, we were still riding through sandy desert. Clouds started to come in and once more we were looking for a sheltered place to camp but there was none. We put the tent up at the foot of another hill, behind a gravel mound right next to the highway. And as it happend the other night, the first raindrops fell, when Flo came into the tent, only this time with a steaming pot full of pasta.

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The clouds were still there in the morning. We packed our bikes and rolled off, observing the sky. As ususal it was impossible to tell in which direction the clouds were moving. I wanted to hitch hike. I was not in the mood of getting soaked in this desolate land. We still had to ride one more day to reach the first town. The sky around us grew darker and finally it rained all around us. We stopped to put on our raingear and wrap our shoes with plastic bags. Flo wanted to ride, I wanted to get a ride. There was hardly any traffic and mostly small cars. The trucks that passed didn’t have any space, so we kept riding through the first rain. There was no thunderstorm yet, but another salt flat to cross. In the middle of the flat Flo wanted to stop for lunch. Men are always hungry in the most impossible spots. We stopped and even got some rays of sunshine. I tried to get a ride again with no luck. I was in a really bad mood. How many times did we have to take flight from thunderstorms?! And now again it was black all around, no thunders yet but it could be extremely dangerous to be caught in one on the salt flat. I was just done with this situation, this nightmare. I wanted it no more!

It started to hail and the wind was blowing the ice kernels into our faces twinching cheeks and forehead. I was soaked within seconds, my rain jacket is only jacket. When we were passed that storm, I was done with biking. Every time I saw a truck in the back mirror I told Flo to stop and we tried to get a ride. The third truck stopped and led us get on. It was so nice to be inside the driver’s cabin and watch the clouds outside without fearing to get hit by hail or lightening. Our clothes slowly dried while an engine worked to get us 150km further. The truck brought us up onto the last pass of 4300m, the entrance to the argentine summer.

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I felt so good. I didn’t regret that ride at all. I was more than done with desert and storms. All I wanted was smelling grass again, listening to the songs of birds and the wind playing with the leafs of trees. Riding down those 30km was like a dream. At first scattered tussocks appeard between rocks and sand, then a cactus now and then. A few bushes covered the ground in a dent. Soon there were more plants on the ground than bare rocks and suddenly we discovered the first trees way down in a canyon. We passed truck after truck, letting go of the breaks to get closer to the green. With the first scent of the trees in my nose and the sound of birds in my ear I had tears in my eyes. I was so happy – We had passed another milstone on our journey!

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And now what?

Finally in Argentina we had to decide about our further route. For us it was now too late in the season to try and get all the way down to Patagonia. By the time we would reach Ushuaia, the most southerly town in the world, it would be deepest winter there. That’s why we thought about a loop through Paraguay, Brasil, Uruguay and back into Argentina. There were two problems with this idea: Northern Argentina at this time of the year is in the season of thunderstorms and rain and can get temperatures past 40 degrees celsius. Moreover would our money probably just have lasted to reach Buenos Aires. We thought about giving slide shows in Buenos Aires, though we wouldn’t have any guarantee of actually making some money to continue our journey.

Then we had the idea to continue southwards with a loop through the mountains by Cordoba, take a break in Mendoza and give slide shows there. But after a phone conversation with my sister I came up with a third idea: What if we would fly to Switzerland for a few months to work and then continue our journey with more money and at a better time of the year? Without beeing sure of actually getting a job at least for Flo, we didn’t want to risk buying flight tickets. So we sent some e-mails out to potential employers to check out the situation in Switzerland. Next morning we had an answer from Flo’s ex boss. He wrote that he had a job for Flo, if he could start within the next two weeks. If not he would give the job to someone he had just interviewed the day before. He needed to make his desicion at the latest in two days.

It was not an easy desicion for us. The flight to Switzerland was incredible expensive. The move to Switzerland would cut off the thread of our journey very abruptly, but there was not really time to think about it. We needed the money. We would see our families, Chan could connect with his cousins he had never met before and I could work on a slide show to give in Switzerland.

So we decided to go for it. It was a journey of four days with 20 hours by bus from Salta to Buenos Aires. We are in Switzerland now, living with my sister and her partner in Winterthur, sharing a three bedroom apartment. Flo has already worked in the Landscape Architecture office for one week. I am still trying to adjust to all the changes, the culture, the climate, the language. Half a year we will be here, our flight back to Argentina is booked for the first week in September. Our bikes are waiting for us in the “casa de ciclista” in Salta.

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7 comments for now

Wind, salt and sand

Posted by on Dec 30 2007 | 12 Bolivia 2007, 13 Chile 07/ 08, English

Further we must go

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La Paz, or better the “casa de ciclista” from Linda and Roul there, was the perfect spot for Chan to turn four. He got a real birthday party with kids to play, cake, ice cream and gifts. Chan was sad to leave that place, but once we got our package with spare parts for the trailer out of customs, it was time to ride further south. We wanted to reach the Salar de Uyuni, the worlds largest salt flat, before it got water on its surface. The rainy season had just begun and usually is wetter in the North than the South, so we might just be lucky.

Roul drove us up through the worsed part of the city and so we only had to climb up to the rim for 9km. Once back on top it was pretty flat all the way to Oruro with only one longer climb.

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It took us four days to cover those 230km. There was much wind and we got into another tempest with hail. Whenever kids saw us coming, they would run to the roadside, kneel down and hold up their caps or ask for “regalos” (gifts).

We were worried about the weather. Every day we could obsereve rain and thunderstorms all around us. Was there water already on the Salar or was it still dry and crossable? We asked people on our way south and the answer was always the same: “El Salar? Seco es! No hay lluvia, no hay agua.” Neverthless, when we got to Huari, the end of the paved road, we looked for a ride in a truck. We knew that the gravel road to Salinas, at the edge of the Salar, was exceptionally bad: sandy with horrible washboard. After hours of waiting, a truck finally gave us a ride for some 70km, a bit passed Quillacas.

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This was better than nothing. In the dark they let us off and we put up our tent Chan waited in the trailer. At this hour we were all too exhausted to be cooking, so we ate some carrot and cucumber sandwiches and went to bed. Chan slept within seconds. Next morning we had some different visitors: Llamas were grasing around the tent curiously coming closer and when I lifted one backpack out of the vestibule, a small white skorpion fled away and under the tent floor.

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Riding wasn’t much fun for the next two days, but we had an aim: to reach the Salar in dry condition. We couldn’t turn around anymore now. Around us was dry desert pampa with no other vegetation than stringy grass and thorn bushes. We saw some owels flying away and vicuñas and for the first time emus from very far, a huge bird that runs on its two legs instead of flying.

Another night in the tent and anoter thunderstorm with hail and hard rain went by. Then another day of riding and pushing over a sandy washboard dirt track.

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After 20km riding one day, we expected to get a glimpse of Salinas any moment.

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But instead Flo stopped and pointed to the trailer. I couldn’t see at first, but finally I realised that the two wheels were in a weird angle to the trailer and then I was appalled: “The axis!”, I screamed, “oh no, what should we do now?” Well, Chan and I waited by the broken trailer while Flo rode off to get motorised help from Salinas. The trailer with its broken axis couldn’t be moved otherwise anymore. It was two more kilometers to Salinas, luckily no more, and Flo found a pickup and its owner quickly who came to get us. Lucky too there was a mechanic in the village who could fix our trailer for a horrenduous prise and only for the next day. It would have been the perfect day to head out onto the Salar with blue skies and no clouds at all, but we had to spend the day in Salinas, waiting.

Salar de Uyuni

There were clouds on the horizon, but above us the sky was blue and so we rolled off with a fixed axis on the trailer. Our route was beautiful. At first the path was still sandy and bumpy, but then we entered the hard pampa at the edge of the salt flat, which was very smooth to ride on.

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The view of vulcano Tunapa was great and we were happy to be so close to entering onto this huge salt flat. Then the road went back onto mainland for about 10km and we were stuck in sand again.

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When we passed a village, a herd of llamas was close by and one of them came galloping towards us. It almost ran Flo over. I was behind and stopped to let it go by, but it came straight for me. I wanted to move, but Flo called: “Stop, don’t move, this is perfect for a picture!” But this llama was a bit too intrusive for me and I quickly pushed my bike to Flo’s side. He was still fumbling with his camera which the llama found very interesting and put his head into everything.

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For me it was too much as it pushed me into Florian and tried to climb on me. I screamed and let go of my bike. Luckily Flo could grip it, so it didn’t fall to the ground. The llama now thought it to be a funny game to chase me and while we ran rounds around Florian, the trailer and the bikes, Flo ordered us to stop and calm down. He said: “Rebekka, get onto your bike and ride off!” “I can’t, he will follow me!”, I screamed back. But somehow I managed to take my bike and take flight, while Flo got a hold onto the llamas throat and told him to get to his senses. When this didn’t work he took his dog stick and finally the llama ran away.

Shortly after this we got to another village, where we were told was an easier access to the salt flat, than from the official ramp at Jirira. They said, like this we wouldn’t have to climb over a pass on a rocky path but could rather ride around it. Nobody had told us though, that this side of the Salar was the wettest. It was a grandious feeling to be at last on this huge, flat, white land of salt!

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We had made it! After only a few minutes riding we were covered in salt and looked like bike riding snowmen. We passed the salt blocks where they harvest salt and looked for the island we were told we needed to pass.

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The way around was much further than we had believed it to be from people’s descriptions. The clouds from this morning were suddenly very close and we started to hurry. In our backs the thunder was growling. A tempest on the salt flat was the least we wanted to experience. So we hurried foreward and finally could make out the ramp to Jirira. The black clouds passed by our side and when we reached the only hospedaje and store in the otherwise empty village, the sun was back smiling at us. Luckily there was water. We spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning our bikes and shirts which were stiff from the salt.

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The light was dim, when we woke up early next morning. The sky was coverd with clouds. Flo went to ask the hotel owner for advice. He told us to ride out onto the Salar, that they would have rain that night for sure, but that it was very rare to get thunderstorms on the Salar. We should try and make the 100km to the other side in one day.

The ride on the sea of salt was a bit relaxter this time, for the sun burned most of the clouds away and the salt surface got nicer and dryer the further we rode.

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But then it started to drizzle a little and the sun was hiding again. We were hurrying once more. By lunch time we reached isla de pescado, where jeep load after jeep load of tourists arrived.

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We asked the local drivers about the weather and salt conditions and the southern end of the Salar. Of course they can’t predict the weather, but they adviced us to stay on the island for the night if we couldn’t make it off the Salar that same day, because there was a big chance of getting rained on that night. For the Salar that could mean getting a layer of 2-5cm of water in which we wouldn’t want to be camping. On the island was a beautiful path through cacti and from its top we had a panoramic view of the whole salt lake.

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We stayed in a hut, the bikes ready to go for early next morning. It had just gotten dark, when the raindrops started their rhytmic music on the roof. Shortly after our room was lit in white light and dark again. The growling thunder added his part to the tune.

Blue skies and no clouds at all awaited us in the morning as well as a Salar turned into a lake. Flo went to check the depth of the water and found it to be only about 2-3cm deep Should we ride out or not? We had already decided to go to Uyuni in the east instead of San Juan on the southern end. In the south we would have more sandy washboard paths that by now had probably turned into mudholes.

The day was so beautiful that we started to ride. It was pretty eerie because we couldn’t really make out the depth of the water and it just looked like we were riding through a huge lake.

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Also it was very hard to see the tracks of the jeeps we had to follow in order of not getting lost. There were no landmarks by which to know the directions. After about 5km the surface got dryer and was finally completely dry and easy to ride on.

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Now we started to really feel the intensity of the sun, reflecting on the big white. 70km it was to the ramp at Colchani. About 3km before getting back onto land, the Salar became very wet and this time soft and muddy as well because they were harvesting salt right around the ramp. I was very upset because we got wet and salty feet so close before getting off the Salar. It is so shortly sighted not to leave a dam for the cars and busses crossing the salt flat. But then we were off it and very happy. We finally crossed the Salar de Uyuni ourselves and just in time!

Colchani was a miserable little village and there was no place to stay besides some star hotels at the edge of the salt. It was mid afternoon and we decided to keep going for the remaining 25km to Uyuni on gravel and sand.

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No more rain, no more plants

We wanted to take the train to Chile.

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The roads leading there are really bad and with all that rain probably almost unpassable for us. But aparently the train to Chile consists of only one wagon and you can’t take luggage on it. So we were told at the train station. We could show up at 3am, just before the train’s departure and talk to the conductor, for he would maybe let us on, we were told too. Instead of getting up in the middle of the night, not knowing, if we would get a ride or not, we prefered to take the bus. There we got space for all our bikes and we knew we had a seat.

Chile doesn’t allow bolivian busses to enter their country and Bolivia doesn’t allow chilenian busses to enter their country. Everybody has to get off in the noman’s land zone between the two countries and switch busses. We just unloaded our bikes and rode to the chilenian boarder post ourselves, while the other passengers had to wait for their bus. Chilenian immigration can take 2-4 hours if you’re in a bus. It took half an hour for us. But we didn’t know, that we couldn’t bring honey into Chile. We are sure that the immigration officer is enjoying it now himself.

Even if it was only midday, it had been a long day for us and we decided to stay in Ollague, the border village. We also had to stock up on water and food for the next three days on gravel, washboard and sand in the Atacama desert, aparently the world’s dryest place.

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For 200km there was no vegetation at all, not even cacti. We were surrounded by smoking vulcanoes and boulder.

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We passed another salt flat, had to climb a hill, but there was no place to hide from the sun and no place to rest in the shade. Our tent we put up in a recess of the boulder to be sheltered a little bit and hidden from the road. The next day we reached a campamiento by noon and found a store there, where we could fill up our water from the tap. The store had a few rolls of cookies and crackers, three bottles of coca cola, two cans of tuna, one can of cream and two cans of peaches. We bought coke, crackers, the cream and a can of peaches. From here the road was supposed to be better. It was only true for the next 7km, where it was sealed with salt. Then we were back on sand and a strong head wind added to the strains. We made it 50km through the desert before we set up camp in a gravel pit.

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Now the road was sealed again, downhill mostly and we enjoyed a nice tail wind for about 20km. We wanted to reach Calama and ride 100km that day. Our lunch break we took in Chiu Chiu an oasis with the first green vegetation in Chile. From here we had headwind for the remaining 30km which took us 5 hours! But we were in Calama now, it was hot and one day before Christmas. We checked into a hotel for one night. They were closed for Christmas. Next morning we went to look for another one and had quite some trouble finding one that stayed open. Then we went to the supermarket to buy food for our next leg of the journey, again through the Atacama desert for 300km, over 4800m and with no water or food along the way. The store was overflowing with people There were no empty carts. People were trying to get one by catching people finished with their shopping, following them to their cars to be able to get a hand on the cart.  Finally after about 15 minutes, we were lucky as well and could start our shopping.

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It must have been about two hours later, when we got ourselves an ice cream and sat down exhausted in the supermarket’s own cafeteria, before standing in line for check out.

We are now in San Pedro de Atacama, an oasis two day rides east of Calama. Here we want to relax for a day or two and take a jeep tour to the wonderland of geysirs before heading out into that lonely 300km part of way into Argentina.

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3 comments for now

Two more wheels

Posted by on Dec 02 2007 | 11 Peru 2007, 12 Bolivia 2007, English

Not always easy

So we made it through Peru, the most challenging country so far on our journey. Challening in different ways, so for example due to the rapid climate changes from tropical heat and humidity to freezing cold temperatures at the high passes within a days ride or two. Some of the roads were really bad and we had to push the bikes somethimes for hours over riverbed like paths. And finally we never felt very comfortable with the majority of the people we met along the way. They seemed to have a different understanding of private space touching Chan and our bikes whenever we stopped. 20 to 30 kids and adults would gather around us immediatly, starring at us and touching our things. Especially mothers would then start to criticize the way Chan was dressed: too cold or too hot. They would then try to convince us, that Chan couldn’t breath in his trailer or that he was hungry or needed a drink, when he was perfectly fine. Somethimes kids were running after us, catching up and pulling on the trailer or the bikes backwards.

All these unpleasant experiences don’t however overshadow that we also met amazingly hospitable and friendly people and although warned many times about robberies, never had an incident nor felt at the slightest threatened.

Machu Pichu at least

After two weeks staying in Cusco beeing sick one after the other, we finally managed to organize our trip to Machu Pichu, the “lost city of the Incas”. Since it costs an incredible amount of money to get there and another fortune to see the ruins, we didn’t want to spend another awful lot of money for the bus up a steep hill (500m up) to the entrance of the ruins. Instead we got up at 4am and took a nice one hour hike up to the gate.

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Chan wasn’t ready to hike yet, sleepy he was sitting in the ergo carrier on my back half way up, then Flo took him over and I got our backpack with food, water and spare clothing for Chan instead.

At the gate we weren’t allowed in with our bigger than 20l pack (A person is allowed to take a 20l backpack into the site.), the guardian wasn’t discussing at all, we had to go to a woman apparently in charge of storing backpacks. But as soon as we entered her office, she yelled at us that we wouldn’t respect rules and that she wasn’t talking to us anymore, hardly even looking at us. Now we were really angry, yelling something not very nice back. Outside we took some stuff out of the backpack, then tied it together as small as possible and went back to the gate. I was carrying the now small backback and Flo was carrying Chan and a plastic bag. The guardian wanted to protest again, but Flo told him angrily that the 20l bag per person was applying to us as well and we walked through the gate. The guardian called into our backs, that we weren’t allowed to put the plastic bag back into our backpack once on site.

The first few moments in Machu Pichu we couldn’t enjoy because of our frustration. But when we had climbed up to a point where we could overlook the whole scene our anger cooled off.

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Machu Pichu wasn’t showing its full beauty. Misteriously parts of the ruins were hidden behind mist and passing clouds. After a while observing this wonderous spectacle we started our hike up Wayna Pichu, the steep mountain at the far side towards the river valley.

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We enjoyed a beautiful hike with not too many tourists, the sun was burning mist and clouds away and the site started filling up with people, brought up the mountain bus load by bus load. What an amazing view we enjoyed from the top of Wayna Pichu. Not only were there more ruins, but we could oversee the whole site of Machu Pichu as well as getting a full panorama of snowcapped  peaks in the distance.

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We left Machu Pichu arround noon, when most of the visitors arrived and crowded the place. The hike down to Aguas Calientes was pleasant but towards the end got quite painfull for our leg muscles not used to walk almost exclusvely steps for eight hours!

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Back in Cusco I could hardly walk anymore. Chan helped me getting around and said: “Mama, you are really, really old!” No wonder, my walking style was the one of a 90 year old woman! We had to stay four more days in our hostal, only then I was able to walk and bike almost normally again with not too much pain.

When the rains beginn

It was sunny and nice warm when we left Cusco with two more wheels than usual. Attached to my bike with the follow-me tandem hitch is now Chan’s own bike.

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He had been asking for his own bike for a while now and we thought it would make a good birthday present. Our little guy is already 4 and ready to get onto his own two wheels! After the first few km pedaling himself, he exclamed that we could get rid of his trailer because he had his own bike now.

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Since then however, he has discovered that the trailer is still a good thing to have for napping, eating and playing and to be sheltered from wind, rain and hail! We got enough of that in the coming days climbing onto the altiplano and crossing this high plateau along lake Titicaca.

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On the first few days we could always escape the rain by arriving at a hospedaje mid afternoon, but the day we got over the last high pass for a while (4338m) we were caught in a terrible thunder storm. The night hadn’t been the most relaxing. We could stay in a centro de salud in a patient room. In there as well was a gaz stove with pots containing left overs. The beds we were advised not to use because sick people had been lying on them. When Flo carried our panniers inside, he found the smell in the room quite unpleasant and looked arround for its cause. He came out with a plastic box, in it was a lambs skull, the dried flesh still sticking to it was reeking. The whole thing looked disgusting to us although Chan was quite interested in it. After a few minutes the doctor came looking for it and she carried the box under her arm as one would books. In the morning we had a flea in our tent, which we had put up inside the room to sleep in. Flo was up with the first rays of the sun and quickly we packed our bikes to get out of there. Breakfast we ate a few kilometers further in fresh air. By midday clouds were rolling in, not unusual for the season, but we wanted to continue riding for some 40km more, since it didn’t look too serious.

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But only maybe 10 minutes after we had left it started to rain very suddenly and with the rain lightening hit right next to us. It was too dangerous to step from the bikes to put on our rain gear. On the bikes we were safe from the lightening because of the rubber tires.

I was terribly afraid. The rain had turned into hail now, whipping our faces hard. Our hands were hurting beeing freezing cold but the storm didn’t let us go. In fact, there were new storms approaching whenever we thought the worsed was over. The road was in some places covered with a 3-5cm thick layer of hail. Then there was an incredible loud thunder and at the same time I felt an electric shock passing through my left arm. Lightening stroke into the electric powerline paralleling the road and a branch of it had hit me. I screamed out horrified. Flo tried to calm me down but I was panicking and yelled at him to go faster. For about one hour we were caught in the terrible tempest then finally the hail turned back into rain and the time between lightening and thunders got longer. Then the rain subsided. There was a hut next to the road where “arroz con pollo” was sold. Flo went to ask for hot tea. We finally got jackets and rain gear out and tried to warm up our trembling bodies. We still had to go for another 15km to reach a town with hospedajes. The rain was getting stronger again and completely soaked we checked into a more expensive hotel because they had promised us hot water immediately. An hour later there was still no hot water. When we came back from dinner there was still no hot water. Only in the mornig the water was hot but by then we didn’ t need it anymore and we refused to pay the full prize of our room.

On the Altiplano at least

We were riding long days. The altiplano was quite flat as its name suggests, and we were ready for a new country. We wanted to get into Bolivia after three not so easy months in Peru. Every mid afternoon we could observe different storms around us, somethimes getting caught by them, somethimes beeing able to escape.

The winds were slowing us quite a bit coming from the sides or the front, never from the back. The landscape wasn’t as stunning as we had expected it from the description of other cyclists, but for the most part this must be due to the dull weather.

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On one of the worst paved roads so far, covered with holes and patches, busy with minibusses, big tourist busses, trucks and taxis whizzing by close, honking loudly, we got our first glimpse of marvelous lake Titicaca. This first sight was grandious. Passed Puno the road was much quieter and we were riding now directly on the shore of the highest navigatable lake.

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A day before we reached Copacabana in Bolivia, Sekiji, a japanese cyclist we had already met in Cusco, caught up to us. What we had been riding in six long days, he had done in three!

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That day we were riding together mostly and he was taking lots of pictures. The border crossing was very smooth and mid afternoon we entered into our 12th country since Canada or our 16th since Switzerland.

Copacabana is a nice little town nestled in a small bay at the shore of lake Titicaca. It is growing only for tourists, a small copy of Cusco.

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We stayed three days to celebrate my birthday and visit Isla del Sol, the sacred birthplace of the Incas.

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Restaurants are popping up like mushrooms in Copacabana, but many of the owners can’t cook, but they have on their menu whatever a tourist heart desires like lasagne, pizza, risotto, etc. We ordered a salad and a lasagne. The salad was fine, not much that can be done wrong there. When the lasagne was served we couldn’t believe our eyes: It was a normal flat white plate, on it three sheets of pasta covered with maggi soup (chemical instant mix). Well we went to another restaurant for a second dinner. Chan had had a blast with a waiter in another place two days ago, so we went there and ordered a pizza and some desert to satisfy our still hungry stomachs while Chan took off with the waiter again “to work”. He was carrying dirty dishes to the kitchen, brining the menu to tables and finally the bill as well! As his first salary the waiter gave him a piece of lemon pie.

It was now 150km to Bolivias biggest city La Paz. We rode it in two days.

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On the second day we rode through densely populated areas for about 20km before the centre. La Paz lies in a canyon spilling over its rim into El Alto because there is no more room in the canyon. It is filled with houses and houses.

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It was an incredible site, when we arrived at the rim and slowly rolled down into this sea of buildings, cars and people.

We are staying in a “casa de cyclista” in a huge house with a beautiful garden. Sekiji had contacetd Linda and Roul and asked if we could stay with them as well. Now we are here with Sekiji and a brithish cycling couple. Linda and Roul have grand children and therefore a room full of toys in which we are staying – paradise for Chan!

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We will be staying for a few days, waiting for a packet with spare parts clearing customs.

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6 comments for now

Bike, train, bus and pick up

Posted by on Nov 09 2007 | 11 Peru 2007, English

Peru Rail

” Flo, are we on the right road? I don’t want to ride back up this road to the City!”, I said. So we asked for the maybe 4th time, but again were reassured that this road would take us to Izcuchaca and further to Ayacucho. On our map were two roads eventually leading to Ayacucho, the next bigger city after Huancayo. We wanted to get onto the one on the right side of the river to get to Izcuchaca and into the mountains, and not follow a dry and hot river valley. Right now we were still on the left side of the river and the number of the road was wrong too. Finally we came to an intersection, where we could turn right into a village on our route as it was marked on our map. After some 3km the road made a wide loop and turned back into the direction we came from. Again we asked directions. Now we were sent back to the intersection. Slowly it dawned on us, that our map must be completely wrong. Later we found out, that the map showed a nonexisting road, the one we had to take was marked wrong and parts of it were missing altogether on the map. After a detour of about 10km we were back on track climbing one of the now regular “over 4000m” passes. The country was quite dry here and rocky, the dirt a bright orange. All land was used for agriculture to the top of the hills, sectional in small rectangles. And soon enough the road tipped to the other side and we glided passes villages and fields loosing what we’d just climbed switchback by switchback.

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We had wanted to stop at a restaurant for lunch, but there was none open and when we stopped to look for one inthe last town before Izcuchaca, kids came running at us screaming and laughing, so that we were quickly on the bikes again and didn’t stop anymore until we stood in front of the train station in Izcuchaca. We wanted to take the train from here to Huancavelica, some 70km further, for a change. We thought to stay in Izcuchaca for a night and catch the first train in the morning. But as we are in Peru and nothing is guaranteed, I went to the ticket office right away to inquire about schedules and prizes. It turned out that there was no train the next day, only that day at 4pm which was in 15 minutes. The ticket vendor also doubted that our bikes would fit onto the train. Normally peruvians aren’t complicated with luggage, it always works somehow. So I told him we were going to try anyway. We folded the trailer down to its shell size and packed its content into our backpacks. We unloaded the bikes and got ready for the train, watched closely by a group of kids. Finally the ticked vendor called the train and the conductor thought that there was enough space on the engine for our bikes. The ticked vendor still doubted it and let us know every minute or two. Then the train arrived, people and luggage got on and off. Flo brought our bikes to the engine and was able to tie them onto the very fron, while I was loading our panniers and packs onto the waggon and Chan was watching our stuff. The trailer came into our compartment as well and off we rolled.

We had seen the tracks before, filled with dirt, overgrown with grass and not always very even. And that’s how it felt inside the train! We were swinging from one side to the other, but we desided not to worry and enjoy the ride instead. We were really hungry too and bought some sweet bread from a vending woman in the train.

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The tracks followed a river along a narrow canyon and slowly, slowly we gained in altitude. At every station more people entered with huge bunldes of luggage. The stations were always a chaos of busy people going here and there, women and children selling bread and other food and drinks, boys waiting with three wheeled carrier bikes to bring luggage to and from the train.

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Then the tunnels started. It was getting dark outside and every time we entered a tunnel it was pitch-dark in the waggon because there was no light. Now there wasn’t much to see outside anymore. Inside the train people were quarreling with the controller about ticket prizes, moving luggage around, eating and talking. At one station two women entered with tons of heavy bundles of herbs. They sat across the alley from us. The herbs smelled really nice, aparently they were to settle stomach gas. But slowly a strong garlic smell filled our waggon. Flo found out what it was, when he needed the toilet. The women had stocked bags and bags of peeled garlic into the tiny bathroom.

We arrived in Huancavelica around 9pm. Now we had to get all our luggage out as well as a super tired Chan and our bikes from the engine. The train workers now suddenly wanted money for the bikes and when we had put the trailer back together, packed the bikes and were about to roll off, one of them stopped us, saying, that we hadn’t paid. Luckily I still had the tickets and the controller could convince him, that we had also paid for the bikes. We found a hotel quickly and went out to get some food. it was a late night and we decided to sleep in the next morning and stay and extra day to rest.

In an alley a dog was gnawing on a bloody cow scull with horns an Chan asked Flo what the dog was eating. Florian explained it as good as he could. Chan was quiet for a while, then asked suddenly: “But where is the cow?”

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Rainbow mountain

On the gravel road out of Huancavelica dogs came chasing us from every second house. The morning had started difficult with Chan wanting everything different making me really mad. When we left the hotel we had had spectators once more, trying to touch Chan in his trailer and now those stupid and dangerous dogs again! I was in a really bad mood. But a few kilometers passed the town the landscape was so beautiful and the road wasn’t bad at all that my mood changed quickly and we enjoyed the ride.

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Soon we saw lots of llamas and alpacas. The rocks looked alomst unreal with such bright orange and red colours. There was supposed to be a village at the altitude of 4170m, but it was abandoned.

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We ate bread, olives and cheese in front of a ruinous adobe house. Now the wind picked up and I started to feel the altitude with some slight dizzyness. But further up we followed the road onto one of the highest altiplanos in Southamerica over 4400m.

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Suddelny a herd of llamas came galloping down the road. They slowed down in front of us, then passed one by one. Flo got water from a stream and then we looked out for a place to camp.

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There were no bushes or trees, just pampa. So we hid our tent behind a small hill next to the road. In the morning a herd of sheeps wlaked passed, then kids played next to our tent. A bit later a woman came by calling something in quechua and a bit later she came back with some sheeps. We might as well have put the tent right next to the road, the whole valley probably knew, that we were there.

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The road led towards a red mountain which was even brighter in the sunlight. And still we were riding uphill. New peaks turned up at the horizon the higher we got and the rocks showed ever new colours as if dipped in a rainbow bath. Many times we had to stop and just enjoy hte sight of these mountains!

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And still the road was leading up and up. Soon we must have been able to touch the sky! The pass was on 4853m. Rainclouds rolled in from one side, but to the other we had a beautiful view onto lakes, rocks and mountain chains. The clouds urged us to leave the pass.

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Along the lakes was the home of a type of marmot which stole the rabbits ears and painted them orange, his tail it got from the squirrel, but the tip it must have burnt or why else would it be black as coal? It was quick that little creature and we couldn’t catch it on film. That night we spent in Santa Ines at over 4600m. Our hostal didn’t have any water, not even a bucket to flush the toilet. Florian asked for wter, but the boy said:” we don’t have any for ourselves.” “But there is the river and the lake right here!”, said Flo. The boy shrugged his shoulders and said:” The river is contaminated because of the mine and the lake is dead.” ” But where do you get your water from?”, I asked. “We have to fetch it from far.”, the boy said. The village didn’t have water for two weeks now because their normal source dried out. the government would do something, the boy had told us, maybe in two to three weeks they would have water again he exclaimed. 

Some 20 bumpy kilometers brought us onto pavement again. Another pass, another downhill and we climbed again onthe way to our second highest pass. It was a long climb and it was getting late. In the next village we asked for a hospedaje but instead could spend teh night at a cruz roja centro de salud station (a kind of mini hospital) in the only patient room. This was really nice of the doctor, but the kids of the village were annoying, wtching us close while we were cooking outside and tehn starring through the window while we ate and prepared our beds. The tiny hodpital didn’t have electricity just a generator for emergenies. The toilet was out of order, there was a shithole in the back yard. A car batterie was sitting on a chair in the bathroom with cables going into the adjacent room.

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It must have been at least 100 switchbacks which slowly brought us up to an altitude of 4750m again.

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At the top a truck was waiting for us. Some women and kids came our way and Flo said:” Not even up here we are left alone!” So we took a “Taking pictures-throwing sand into the wind-eating crackers- beeing watched -break” and then whizzed down, down, down passed rainbow mountains, rocks and yellow grass. It was about 50km downhill, back to 1900m and back to quite warm temperatures. On the way down the llamas were replaced by cows, horses and donkeys, the bare pampa with eukalyptus and pine forests.

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At the very bottom of the valley we stopped our riding day and had a cup of coffee before moving into our “cuarto”. The used bed linens were taken out of the room hold under water for a few minutes hung into the sun and given back to us. Flo was clearing the room from garbage before we carried our stuff upstairs. We prefered to sleep in our own sleeping bags in our tent inside the room that night. Another 27km brought us up the last pass before Ayacucho. this one wasn’t quite a high, just 3900m. early afternoon we arrived in Ayacucho on the other side.

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And a piece of way by bus

Before us was a part of the way which promised to be exertive. A few more 4000m passes parted by deep hot and tropical valleys. This road was not paved. Friends of ours sent us information about the condition of the road: A lot of riverbed like parts, they had to walk a lot. We had one month left in Peru. It would have taken us at least two weeks for those 380km of gravel. Two weeks which I wouldn’t have enjoyed nor would Chan have been happy with another bumpy ride. We decided to take the bus, that would save us an exhaustive two weeks as well as the money for an extention of our visas.

We checked out a few bus companies, but there was only one doing this difficult road. We bought seats in the very front above the driver to enjoy the panoramic view. The night before our departure we packed everything from the trailer into the backpacks. At 6am we rolled through the city to the bus terminal and there folded the trailer to its shell size.

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When the bus arrived, Flo loaded the bikes and our luggage, while Chan and I watched our stuff. the first surprise was, when we got to our seats, which were not the panoramic ones, but one row behind. We couldn’t change that now anymore. But on the panoramic seats were two other tourists which switched seats with us after half the time.

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The first part of the way, to Andahuylas, took us ten hours. At lunch time we stopped at a restaurant. I stayed in the bus to cut some apples for Chan, while Flo and Chan went for a pee. When I wanted to join them outside, the door of the bus was locked. Nobody had told us, theat we could’t get in and out of the bus during the 40min break. So I was locked in, the driver had disappeard. We arrived in Andahuaylas at 5pm. There we had to change the bus for another ride at seven, supposedly taking three hours. While we waited for the new bus I got some food: rice with fried onions. it started to rain and we had to move our stuff under shelter. Finally the bus had arrived. Flo went to load the bikes and trailer, but they said there was no space. Flo said:” Well, if there is no space down here, I will take our stuff up to the seats. We bought our tickets in Ayacucho through to Abancay, we paid extra for our luggage and we will take this bus with all our luggage. As you know there is no bus tomorrow because of the census.” Suddenly there was space for the bikes but to make it a bit more complicated, Flo had to take off the front wheels and one of our backpacks was loaded onto the other side of the bus.

A nice surprice waited for us in the bus: Shortly before departure we were served a hot seet infusion and a pastry. It was already dark when we rolled out of Andahuaylas. The bus was really slow and now and then stopped for a few minues without any reason. Chan fell asleep on my lap. After maybe four hours I started to get restless. Why were we advancing so slowly? Finally we could see the lights of Abancay far down in the valley. But the descent was a torture. We went from one side of the mountain all the way to the other, turned around and came all the way back without loosing much altitude. halfway down we stopped again and bus personel switched buses with one coming the other direction. Other busses from other companies overtook us. Why could they drive so much faster? We finally arrived in Abancay at 1am instead of 10pm. now we had to put the bikes and the trailer back together. Chan of course woke up and cling to me util the trailer was ready. in there he felt save again and started playing. At 1.30am we started looking for a hotel. At that time most were closed of course. Finally we found one open. it was a really dusty, grubby room but we had no choice. The owner was really nice and helped us carry the bikes and trailer upstairs. It was passed 2am when we finally closed our eyes.

Bacteria invasion

Now we were looking foreward to Cusco. Three days of riding, maybe four and we would see our Swiss cycling friends (www.affenbrunner.ch) and Steven the Australian again. We would take some days of rest, clean our bikes and visit Machu Pichu.

36km uphill, a climb of 1500m took us out of Abancay. on the pass we could still see down onto the city.

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It started to hail and rain so that we quickly put on our raingear for the downhill ride, another 36km to Curahuazi back on 2680m.

Flo got diharrea during the night, but he wanted to ride the next day. Cusco was waiting! Down we whizzed, the bridge over the river was at 1900m and from there the road followed the river uphill again along a super hot valley. Flo and I both struggled. I had a hard time with the heat as usual and Flo just felt very weak. Finally he had to sit down in the shade and I stopped the next pick up car. These lovely people gave us a ride to the next town, where we got a room in a hostal. Flo went to bed with a high fever. That evening a couple from Austria arrived on a tandem. Chan and I talked with them late into the night. In the morning, Flo’s fever was gone and he wanted to ride although it was uphill for another 25km to the next pass. Only at 10am we started riding after we had said goodbye to the tandem couple who was taking the route we came from under their wheels.

Slowly we gained in altitude. By 3pm we had made it to the pass. Snow peaks framed the horizon, it ws beautiful up here, much more our climate! But both Flo and I didn’t fell well now. The pass on this side wasn’t as steep and the road wasn’t taking us below 3300m anymore. Almost in the village we wanted to spend the night, there was construction work on the road. A huge ditch stopped our ride. The cars took a 4km detour on gravel. But while we were standing there, trying to decde what to do, some constraction workers came and showed us a way over two smaller ditches in the adjacent fields to get around the street work. They even helped us lift the trailer and the bikes over. No no more obstacles were in our way, even the rain clouds passed around us, leaving us dry. That night Flo and I both got a soar throat.

Cusco was now only 26km away with not much ups and downs on our route.

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We arrived at the hostal around noon and went to eat lunch. When we came back, Flo went to bed with a high fever again.

The next three days his fever wasn’t coming down. Finally we went to see a doctor, who of course gave him antibiotics for an airpipe infection. The Swiss Rahel and Joerg and the Australian Steven stayed a day longer to help me out. They looked after Chan, while I looked after Flo and got some rest myself. The day they left, Chan got a fever. When Chan was just recovering from his flu or whatever it was that made him have a fever for six days, I started having a fever and I was in bed for a week as well.  This hasn’t been exactly our idea of our visit to Cusco, the ancient Inca capital. We are here now for over two weeks and haven’t seen much else than our room, the hostal, the internet cafe and the market to get fresh fruit.

The plan is now to visit Machu Pichu, come back to Cusco and get the bikes ready for the last leg of our trip in Peru, across the altiplano.

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Down to 3000m!

Posted by on Oct 11 2007 | 11 Peru 2007, English

Suiza del Peru

Trujillo is already far away, about 1000km. We are happy that we left the gloomy coastal desert behind and are back in the mountains. But here in central Peru “the mountains” mean climbing well above 4000m passes, descending down into quite hot and tropical valleys between 1900 to 3000m just to get back up into somethimes freezing cold air.

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The colours of the desert were shades of gray. Sand was everywhere, in our clothes, hair and mouth. The wind blew from south to north. It wasn’tcold nor hot. In this dull ambiance suddenly appeared one bright green field after the other. These were cultivations of artichoke, sugar cane, asparagus and grapes growing on sand so to say hors sol! This intensive colour in all that gray is so wrong placed that it makes the whole picture of the coastal desert even more gloomy!

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Then we turned east onto a good gravel road. In the beginning the landscape was just a continuation of the desert we came from. But the sand dunes grew into mountains of loose rocks, then solid rock in colours of red, yellos and purple. Finally we reached a dry river valley with some shrub vegetation.

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Slowly, slowly we gained in altitude. The gravel road now changed into a riverbed like path.

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We were following the valley of the Rio Santa, the wind was really strong and helped us push the bikes over the rocks. It was hot and we welcomed the shade of the steep rock face.

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At the end of the day the road led steeply uphill with some switchbacks, away from the river to a village. We found the hospedaje, a shack, the only place for us to spend the night. The beds didn’t have linens, the cover blanket was grubby. Cobwebs graced the walls and door the cealing had spyholes into the sky. The toilet was another wood shed  outside. The showerhead fixed to the wall above the shit hole. We preferred to smell for another day. In the adjacent room people shared their space with ducks, chickens and a talkative rooster. They slaughtered a guinea pig in front of our door so that we had to step over a blood puddle when we left. Lucky for him and us, the second guinea pig ran off.

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37 tunnels, some of which 200 to 300m long and without light brought us up over 2000m through Cañon del pato, a steep narrow canyon.

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Back on pavement we followed the Cordillera Blanca southwards. It was still really warm, the vegetation resembled New Mexico more than the Alps even though this region is called Suiza del Peru.

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In Carhuaz we got the first glimpse of the white peaks of the Cordillera Blanca.

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At the plaza we enjoyed an ice cream first, then went looking for a hotel. All of them were booked out. We had arrived at the last day of the most important fiesta of this town, the celebration of “Virgen de la Mercedes”. Soon the procession started at the church and different bands marched and played at the same time. Over it all rocket after rocket was lit and every minute or so a tremenduous fulmination banged over our heads.

Our guide book had a hostal listed 1km outside of town towards the mountains. We wanted to give it a try. It turned out to be 5km outside, uphill a rocky path. When we arrived, the door to the garden was locked guarded by two big dogs. We called, banged on the door but nobody came to open. Finally, when a taxi passed we could use the drivers cell to call the hostal. It was closed that and the next day, the owner was in Lima. So we went back into town and to the explosions of the rockets. There was still no room available. We went to the police station and could camp in there courtyard for the night.

But what a night this was! The explosions of the rockets never stopped as didn’t the brass bands playing at the top of their volume. Chan slept through the night, but as soon as he woke up he demanded us to turn off that bedlam. Flo and I had a headache. We left Carhuaz as early as possible. Only about 20km down the road I felt really weak, the sun was almost too much for me and my legs and arms started aking. At the entrance of Huaraz Flo had a flat tire. The hostal recommended in our guide book was charging three times as much as listed, so we had to look for another one. By now I had a fever and needed to rest, but we also needed some food and first went for a cheap lunch. Back at the hsotal I couldn’t move anymore. Flo went to buy groceries and looking for a mechanic who could make a special piece for the trailer hitch which was broken. We stayed three days in the center town of Suiza del Peru for me to recover from whatever had caused the fever.

Zona de gran altura

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From Huaraz at 3200m we followed the high valley uphill and passed the next night on 3600m, almost as high as the highest pass so far on our journey. The cacti were replaced by green and yellow grasses. The climate up here seemed much more humid. More snowpeaks with glaciers appeared, the air got thinner and colder.

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We were wearing our wooly hats now instead of the helmets and soon had to fight a fierce headwind. The warm food and hot coca tea at a small comedore at the intersection to the central highland strenghtened our bodies for a 10km fight against a stronger growing ice wind which swept over the plains before the foothills to our first over 4000m pass.

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We were looking for a place to camp and get out of the wind. What a surprise, when we found a hostal at a highway control post. It even had hot showers and a heater in the room. ao we passed the night on 4100m quite comfortably.

Next morning we headed up to 4300m .

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It was cold and we were breathing heavily, but were soon whizzing down into the next valley. Switch back after switch back we lost on altitude. With mixed feelings we observed the change in vegetation once more and took off our jackets and hats.

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Down to 3600m was the road taking us. The starting point for the pass Abra Yanashalla at 4720m. That night we made it back to about 4100m and camped next to a shepherders empty hut. Here we were protected from the wind.

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We were at the end of the valley, where the switch backs began. Luckily the grades of most peruvian roads are comfortable to ride and we were used to the thin air now. The climb wasn’t too hard. I just got out of breath very quickly when speeding away from the aggressive shepherding dogs which were exceptionally nasty on this part of the way. Usually being ahead for a kilometer or two when fleeing from dogs I now had to stop and wait for Flo after a few 100m.

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People in these more remote areas of the country are less used to tourists. Tourists are usually just passing through by bus, if at all taking this route. We met many old peruvian women turning away from us, hiding their face behind their hfands when we were passing by greeting them with a smile and “buenas dias!”. They are afraid of the mean gaze of the evil gringo which they believe could bewitch them.

About three kilometers before the pass a peruvian cyclist caught up to us by short cutting some switch backs and carrying his bike up the slopes. He is biking the pass often because he is working on one side of it and living on the other.

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Vegetation and climate changed again back into desert and tropical warmth the further down we got. The road turned back into gravel once more. The first part was good though and we enjoyed a fascinating ride along a narrow canyon.

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But then the road got nasty again, not more than a rocky path. We still followed a valley mainly downhill but the road led us up and down its flank.

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It was hot and hard to steer the heavy bikes. I was getting into a really bad mood after just half a day’s ride. I was afraid, that the trailer wouldn’t hold up to these exertions and my back and arms were hurting from braking. I told Flo that I wanted to get a ride for the remaining part to Huànuco. He didn’t like it, but said, if I could organize a ride, we would be taking it. We spent the night in Tingo Chico, a horrible tiny village. It was dirty, the houses were falling apart and as soon as we arrived a group of kids and adults followed us where ever we went, trying to touch Chan as often as they possibly could. Our hospedaje was again a dump.

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The beds had only dirty blankets, the courtyard was a chaos of firewood, dirt, garbage and laundry. Chan had two little girls to play with and we cooked our dinner observed by the women living there. Next morning we caught a bus to Huánuco. Now Flo was in a bad mood because he feared that parts of the trailer or the bikes would get broken on the bumpy ride. I was reliefed not to have to ride more “river beds” and Chan loved the ride too. The scenery was spectacular, but we couldn’t take any pictures. Then, after a few hours the bus suddenly stopped. In front of ours was a queue of other busses and trucks. Flo got off the bus as most of the passengers did to investigate the problem. There was a bus stuck in a switch back curve. It would take one hour to half a day to get it out, Flo was told. Huánuco was between 14km and 30km away was the other information he got. When after an hour still nothing was happening, we decided to get our bikes and ride that last part ourselves. A night on the bus wasn’t what we were fancying.

This must have been the worst part of the whole way. The road was like a scree, a strong headwind made steering even worse and it was dusty and humid, the influence of the close Amazonas, eventhough Huánuco is still on 2000m! 27km downhill took us three hours. In Huánuco we got the “being a star” feeling right away again being surrounded by people as soon as we stopped to look for a hotel.

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We didn’t have lunch that day, people on the way were calling us names because Chan was crying in the trailer out of tiredness and because of the shaking. Peruvians never let their kids cry, they are put quiet with sweets or a smack, but letting a child cry is one of the worst things for them to do. Though otherwise children are not persons to be respected. They are more like barbies which can be touched and carressed and handed arround. Our mood was really bad and we weren’t very friendly to our spectators. In the hotel we ate what we could find in our bags, took a nice hot shower and then went to eat pizza. Yes pizza! How do we somethimes miss our own food. Our swiss kitchen, german dark bread, hard cheese, a casserole, quiche, salads…  The food we eat for lunch isn’t bad. For very little money we usually get a nice soup and a plate of rice with sunny side up eggs and freid plantains or fried potatoes with onions and tomatoes, but it always tastes the same.

Anyway, the next day we moved all our stuff to Claudia and Urs, a swiss couple working for the evangelic church, who’s contact we had gotten from Rahel and Joerg. Behind the wall framing their home and the terrain of their organization it was like a paradise, tranquil and beautiful laid out with gardens and flowers everywhere. Claudia invited us to a delisious “Spaetzli” dinner-swiss kitchen! We felt at home! She gave us home made jam and pickled squash, what a treat for us. We stayed for a couple of nights to clean our bikes, do laundry and we even had our own oven to cook a casserole.

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Three days on the road brought us back up over 4000m again and out of the tropical climate. Up here it was winter. We had reached the high plains of the Junin pampa at over 4250m. Thunder storms closed in onto us from two directions. We covered the trailer and packs of the bikes and put on our rain ponchos right in time. Then freezing rain and hail came down onto us.

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A strong side wind tried to push us off the road, lightening was flashing over our heads and passing trucks splashed us full of the dirty wet and blew our ponchos into our faces. We had been looking for one of the usual roadside restaurants, but without luck. So we ate our fruits and chocolate instead and continued riding. Finally we reached Carhuamayo, where, when looking for a hostal, Adrian offered us a bed for free. He had been inviting passing cyclists for years now, feeding them and giving them a place to stay. He was really happy to have caught us and served us hot coffee and Pachamanca, a preinca dish of potatoes, meat and maniok cooked on hot stones.

Adrian even gave us a stove that burned coal to cook our dinner on keep the room warm. Unfortunately we passed a horrible night.  The stove used up too much oxigen so that we all got a strong headache. Chan even had to puke. In the middle of the night we pulled open the door, the tiny window wasn’t enough for the air flow. As soon as the sun came up, Flo got up and packed the bikes. We quickly ate some bread and said goodbye to Adrian and his family. Once on the bikes we started feeling better. It was still cold, but the storms from the night before had passed. Since the road was almost flat and after 45km descended from the high plains into canyons, we covered 90km that day.

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Right at the edge of the Junin pampa we obsereved our first picuñias, a wild member of the llama family.

La Oroya lies on 3750m. It is the main smeltering centre for the regions mining industry. The landscape in the canyon around the town was dead. No plants were growing there, the rocks were covered with some white sediments. While looking for a hotel, our throats already reacted to the badly contaminated air. But we spent the most relaxing night in a long time.

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The next 130km were easy riding along the Mantaro River valley. The road was slowly descending from 3700m to 3300m with no uphills at all. If it wasn’t for the headwind we might even have biked it in one day!

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Now we are in Huancayo enjoying what cities have to offer: a cafe with really good chocolate cake, other food than rice, a supermarket that sells chocolate bars and other useful things, internet and a warm shower.

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Mira, mira gringo!

Posted by on Sep 14 2007 | 10 Ecuador 2007, 11 Peru 2007, English

Rocky road

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The sun was shining hot from a blue sky again. Our bellies were round from a delicious buffet we had for breakfast and we felt a bit sick pushing the bikes uphill. 20km of pavement were left before the beginning of a 300km long gravel road. It had been raining a lot for the past two days, but today seemed to be perfect to start the climb up to over 3000m from only 1500m in Vilcabamba.  We spent the night camping behind bushes next to the road wondering if the rain would stop in the morning for another beautiful blue sky day but we continued riding in our rain gear.

It took us all morning for the remaining 11km uphill to the pass. The road was in parts quite steep so that I had to push my bike and somethimes help Flo push the trailer for a while. On the summit it was very windy and cold. We rolled down for a few kilometers and had lunch on a mossy spot next to the road. There I got some water from a creek which we filtered to fill our bottles again.

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Some super steep and rocky parts awaited us on the downhill ride and a few small creeks crossing the road where I got a wet shoe because my front wheel slipped off a stone in the middle of deep water. So the downhill wasn’t much faster than the uphill. This side of the pass was really hot and the vegetation reminded us very much of Central America. There were the banana and orange trees again, sugar cane and bright coloured bushes.

Another creek crossed the road. I took off one shoe and crossed fine. Florian thought he could make it again and this time slipped and got his shoe wet as well.

Shortly after we took off the next morning I heard a nasty dog barking and stopped to pick up some rocks, then wanted to continue but Florian called up to me to wait until he had some stones as well. Both my shoes got somehow stuck in the pedal baskets and I couldn’t get my feet out and slowly tipped to one side. Because it was gravel and because I was riding in shorts I got some scratches on my leg. I was really mad about this silly fall, the scratches burned, but well, it could have been worse! The ride then was actually quite nice. It was an easy ride of slight down hill with beautiful views until we reached the first side canyon after some 30km. We could see the road on the other side going up steeply and we were rolling down on this side until we reached the stream and a scarry bridge. On the other side we both had to push our bikes and Chan had to get out of the trailer and help us push.

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The gravel here was really loose and we kept slipping backwards. It looked like we had the worsed part of it, Florian even started pedaling again only to discover that after a few 100m it got even steeper and the ground softer. 2km were taking us one hour! Luckily the next few side canyons weren’t as steep anymore, but the ride was arduous anyway. Suddenly I felt this weird quietness arround us and looked up. ¨Flo look over there!¨I called back and pointed to a valley ahead of us which was clouded over and disappeared behind a dense white wall of heavy rain. ¨Hopefully we can make that village over there before the rain is hitting us!¨, he said pointing at some houses on a ridge, ¨this might be Zumba with a hotel!¨ The first raindrops fell, when we reached the village. But what disapointment, when we realized it wasn’t Zumba and that pretty much the whole village was drunk. We covered the trailer and our panniers and rode on. It was downhill now, but thew road was again really bad, soft material and rocks so that we couldn’t ride faster than 4-5km/hour. Finally we reached Isimanchi, the village at the bottom by the river. The rain had stopped again and it was hot down here. We were told that it was 2 hours to walk to Zumba from here. It was 5pm and we would probably need 2 hours as well for the steep climb of 5-7km to Zumba.

We didn’t have much water left and there wasn’t any to buy here. Should we attempt the climb risking to ride in the dark and stay in a hotel in Zumba or stay down here in this hole where people were starring at us? We bought 1 1/2 liter cola and started to climb up. I was really tired but it didn’t feel right to stay down by the river. With lots of breaks, cola and chocolate we made it to the last switch back we had seen from the river about one hour later. The sun had already disappeared behind the mountains. We rode around a rock where the rode had disappeared out of sight and could see the road winding its way further up and up. That almost blew me from my bike . I had believed that we had the best part of the climb by now and now I just didn’t have any strength left. We pushed on and then there were those houses on the side of the road and I told Flo I couldn’t continue and that he should ask if we could camp there. He was a bit disappointed to give up so close to Zumba and so was Chan. He had been looking foreward to a hotel. But we could put our tent up in front of an unused school house, filtered water, cooked and by the time we were eating it was completely dark and had begun to rain again.

The next day it took us another hour to cover the 3km to Zumba. In Zumba we stocked up on food again and Flo could check our e-mail at the town hall. Chan shared his cars with some boys and when we wanted to leave, one car was missing and one of the boys took off quite quickly when we started looking for the car. We were lucky with the weather now, for the rain had stopped and when we continued out of Zumba the sun burned hot on us. The road got worse though with lots of rocks and mud and again we went steeply down hill and on the other side of the valley steeply uphill again. Chan had to walk a few times, but he didn’t mind. Actually he loved it and collected sticks and stones and ran back and forth between me and Florian like a little dog.

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The road wasn’t really a road but more like a path by now and it took us again the whole day for 37km. Especially the last part, only about 10km, were really nasty; loose ground with tons of rocks. It took forever. But we made it to La Balsa and the border to Peru! Ecuadorian Immigration was relatively quick but on the peruvian side we first had to look for the officer who was at home and it took us about 1 hour to get into Peru. But wow! How nice were those first 5km of road! No, it wasn’t paved, but compared to the past few days we were riding on an interstate highway and quickly arrived at a nice hotel in Namballe.

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We stayed one day in that hotel to recover from the exertions of the past days and discovered a tear in the rim of my back wheel. How long would that rim hold? Could we risk another day on gravel with it to San Ignacio where there was supposed to be many bike shops? We took the risk and headed off the next day. the road got worse again with lots of mud in places and water holes, rocks and soft parts. We stopped in a village to buy more liquids and were surrounded by kids and adulds immediatley. Flo counted 31 kids and a handfull of adults staring at us during our whole lunch brake only an arm length away.

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When we got on our bikes again, the majority of them followed us for 1-2 km on foot or bikes and laughed and screamed loudly. From now on this happened every time we rode through a village. We didn’t even have to stop, we were surrounded and followed anyway. If we did stop to buy more water, they were immediately right at our bikes, touching everything, staring through the mosquito net and windows into the trailer. This was especially difficult for Chan who was first afraid and then annoyed. In San Ignacio a group of kids followed us even into the hospedaje and we could only breath up after locking our room door behind us.

It was a very cheap hospedaje, but it was late already and we were too tired to search for another one. In the middle fo the night I woke up suddenly because something big had fallen next to my head and then run off. Flo said it was a rat which entered through the window, then jumped onto the bedframe and lost balance over my head! Igitigitt!

In the morning we brought my wheel to the only bike shop we could find and he said he could change the rim within one hour. When we returned 1 1/2 hours later he was just about to put the old wheel back together. He had taken the whole wheel apart only to discover, that he didn’t have a rim that would fit my 32 spokes. Putting the spokes back into the rim he did a really bad job. My wheel was now as untrue as it could possibly be. Flo couldn’t fix it either without a trueing tool because not even the hub was in the centre of the wheel now and I couldn’t ride on like this.  

We decided to take a bus to Jaen. An american we had met in Ecuador had told us about a really good bike mechanic we would find there. The bus wasn’t leaving until 6.30pm and was taking 3 hours. But we had gotten seats on the upper level in the very front and really enjoyed our panoramic view. The bus stopped in front of a hospedaje and we took a room there. It was too late to pack the bikes and look for another hotel. The room was dirty and cockroaches climbed up and down the walls. In the morning we went looking for the bike shop and found it after the 3rd try. Miguel Obando even had a good rim with the necessary 32 holes for my spokes and not the normal 36 for Peru. His sister invited us to stay in an empty room at their house and we stayed there for three days fixing my bike, giving an interview at the local radio station and letting Chan play with two girls from the Netherlands who live there.

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About rocks, holes and good companions

This part of our voyage was very special for the three of us. It was strenuous to ride, but brought us through extremely diverse landscapes and climates. Only a few weeks before we pedeled these roads, my father had passed through by bus and I felt his presence along the way knowing that he had enjoyed the same amazing views and experienced a journey as fantastic as we did. We didn’t ride alone. Rahel and Joerg, the swiss couple we had already met twice before (www.affenbrunner.ch), had cought up to us again and now we were sharing a part of our voyages. Then there was Steven as well from Australia who was on a ride from Quito to the South without a strong plan about his travels. He had heared about us in Ecuador and became part of our cycling familiy for about 10 days as well.

When we left Jaen we entered Amazonas province. That didn’t mean we were actually in the Amazonas basin but the climate, altitude and humidity certainly reminded us of the close rain forest. the countryside was relatively flat and the wide valleys were used for the cultivation of rice. We were dripping with sweat but the roads were dusty.

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Where ever we appeared with or without bikes people often behaved quite strange as if we were aliens. Kids always followed us screaming:¨Gringo, gringo, mira, mira!¨ A mother once ordered her kids out of the house to watch the gringos ride by. They point with there fingers and get very excited as if they didn’t know of the existence of different coloured people. In the time of T.V, Internet and globalisation this is often not just annoying but those reactions also feel offensive and insulting by the tone of the people’s voices.

Other people are sticking their oversized cameras right into our faces as soon as we get off our bikes without asking if it is fine with us to be filmed. So now we know how it feels to be an attraction but not respected as people. How many people in countries like Peru must feel exactly this by the behaviour of certain tourists!

3 days after we had left Jaen, we heard the familiar sound of a bike bell, Rahel and Joerg had caught up to us.

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There was so much to talk about for the rest of the day and late into the night! Rahel and I didn’t stop talking the whole next day riding in the front. Joerg was in the middle, taking lots of pictures and staying with Flo and Chan behind us. We had already gained in altitude a little bit again and our surroundings changed. A narrow canyon which opened up the higher we got, brought us out of a vegetation of mostly shrubs and thorn bushes into greener regions.

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When we woke up on our second morning with Rahel and Joerg the sky was dark grey and it rained. We all decided to hang around in Leymebamba, hoping that the rain would eventually stop for a sunny ride the next day. So we looked out for a nice chocolate torte and found pancakes and pizza instead. Like every long distance cyclist on a day off, we were eating the whole day. In mid afternoon, just before we had some coffee and cake, Rahel cut my hair short again. When Chan woke up from his nap, he almost cried when he saw me and said he didn’t like it. By now though he is happy with my new look.

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It was still raining the next morning, but we could see some blue in the sky and decided to ride. We were afraid, that the gravel road would turn into a mud path if we waited too long. But the road wasn’t bad and the grades comfortable on the way up to the first of a few passes over 3000m. The road was built into the terrain nicely so that we enjoyed beautiful panoramic views over the valley we came from. The summit on 3680m was very cold and windy. So we were riding down on the other side quickly on a gravel road that was quite good and after about 20km found it was time to stop and look for a place to camp. Rahel discovered the perfect spot on a path leading to a house far away. the path was wide enough for our two tents close to the road, but hidden a bit behind a slope and bushes.

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We put up our tents and started cooking, when Rahel came to me and said, that another cyclist had arrived. It was Steven, wo had done a 100km day on gravel to try and catch up with us! When our food was almost ready a few girls came up the path wit a donkey. We had to make some space first before they could pass between tents and bikes. But they didn’t mind and waited patiently. Then a bit later passed two men on footk and instead of asking what we were doing there, they showed us where to find drinkable water! It was all down hill for about 40km from our campsite to Balsas down at the Marañon River at 900m. We thought it would be a quick ride, but the road got worse the further down we got and we needed more than 3 hours.

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The views were incredible as the change of climate and vegetation. We were slowly diving into what looked like a bare rocky world but actually was quite diverse and colourful in detail. There were prickly pear blooming in bright orange. Bushes with purple and yellow flowers. Knobbed trees and many varieties of cactuses. All the way on the bottom of the valley was the river surrounded by juicy green mangoe trees. The Marañon is one of the two mother rivers which become eventually the Amazonas. Already up here it gathered a big body of water and devides the Andes into two parts with its steep and deep canyon.

Balsas was a terrible little town. Garbage was lying around everywhere and the smell of piss and rotten mangoes filled the thick, hot air. We got lunch in a restaurant and then tried to find food for our dinner and water. There wasn’t much water to buy and for vegetables we were sent to the mangoe stands.

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On the other side of the bridge the road was more like a river bed than road. It was really difficult to steer the bikes on this loose coarse surface. The road slowly climbed te valley side in curves and switch backs, so the grades were comfortable. But Rahel and I had to push our bikes the bigger part of it and Florian did incredible work again, pulling the trailer up that road! After only 8 km we looked out for a place to sleep. We were still in the very dry and hot desert part and needed to find water. People pointed to a tiny creek further up and we were surprised to find water there. Rahel had found a beautiful spot between cactuses and thornbushes for our camp. Joerg and Steven were still a bit further down the road trying to fix Steven’s broken chain and Flo and I fetched water which accidently spilled. So Steven got more water later, we cooked spaghetti together, filtered water and enjoyed our special campsite.

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To escape most of the heat in this dry land, we got up early and faught our way up and up and up. The men were always riding. I pushed my bike more than I could ride it and so did Rahel. 28km took us a whole day of pusing and slowly moving our heavy bikes up on those rocks. Joerg and Steven kept running back to help Flo push the trailer and take my bike to push it a while for me. We needed many breaks and bought the whole stock of 4 bottles of coca cola in a small bodega on the way.

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We camped about 10km below the summit on a grassy spot hidden from the road by thick bushes. Again we cooked pasta with a delicious sauce Joerg put toether. There was no water, but luckily we had filled up on it in the last restaurant where we had eaten lunch. Another morning of pushing in a “riverbed” lay ahead of us. One more switch back and we would be on the summit! I bought another cola. We needed that extra sugar and liquid to keep up our strength. I asked the woman at the bodega if she had a garbage for the empty pet bottles. She pointed to the edge of the slope: “The dogs will eat it!” “No”, I said. “It is plastic, the bottles!” “Ah, you can throw it down anyway.”, she replied. I couldn’t of course, but that’s what people do. There is no place to bring the garbage to!

What a feeling when we had finally reached the summit at 3050m and looked back down to the Marañon. A white line meandered its way up in wide loops and narrow switchbacks ending at our feet. We had made it!

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In Celendin we had half a day to rest, stock up on food and chocolate and celebrate our sixt year of being away from Switzerland.

The road was amazingly good to ride from here. It was still gravel and we had yet another pass on gravel to climb, the highest so far on our journey with an altitude of 3760m. We didn’t make the pass in one day and camped again just about 8km before te summit. Rahel had asked an old man by his house, if we could put up our tents there and he was really friendly and sweet saying over and over:” Si, si, gringita, si, si!” Next morning the police came visiting us to tell us that this road was very dangerous, that there were a lot of robbers and that our security was the responsibility of the police and that they would therefore stay close to us for the whole day. We didn’t see them again.

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We had lunch in the next little town, rice with papas fritas as usual. When we continued we hardly believed our eyes: the road was paved! Wow, that was about 20km earlier than we expected it. No more jolting, just nice and smooth riding! Chan fell asleep immediatly.

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We made it to Baños del Inca mid afternoon and first went for an ice cream. Unfortunatley the hostel with thermal baths we had wanted to stay at didn’ t exist. All other places were terribly over priced and mostly quite shabby. We found one with private bath tubs and Chan, Flo and I relaxed in a warm family bath. But especially I didn’t like the place so we rode the short 9 km to Cajamarca next morning after a bike cleaning session. There the hostal we had chosen was booked out and Rahel, Steven and I looked for another place for about two hours, then Florian and Steven went again and finally found an acceptable place for us to stay. The whole Cajamarca-Baños del Inca experience was a bit disappointing. But we found good honey, butter and cheese for which this area is known for.

The next day we headed out again up to the last pass for a while. This one was a bit over 3000m. The climb on pavement and with gentle grades was easy and the downhill ride neverending. Pavement here was quite old tough and the road full of holes we had to elude which slowed down our schuss. But we rode over 90m that day anyway.

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Now it wasn’t far to the coast anymore. The highway was still more hole than pavement and now te coastal wind picked up. The six of us had been riding a difficult arduous stretch together. Flo, Chan and I were slowing the pace of the other three, but they stayed with us until Trujillo. There was yet another difficult point along the way we wanted to pass as a group. From other cyclists we had been warned about the town of Paijan, where cyclists had been robbed by armed men riding a red motor taxi in the past few months. We had our bear and dog sprays ready as well as sticks handy. Steven broke the wind for the rest of us and with an average speed of 20 km/h we covered the first 40km through the desolate sand desert to Paijan. At the entrance of the town was a dead bloody dog in the middle of the road. We ate some chocolate, all the men including Chan peed and on we went like a train with five waggons and the locomotive Steven. With every red motor taxi we passed or were passed by I thought: Are they the ones? And I’m sure the others did the same. We only stopped again 10km passed Paijan to eat something. Now the ride was a bit relaxter, though the landscape was the same barren land. We rode 104 km, the longest distance for Flo, Chan and me so far and still arrived in Trujillo early afternoon. The dynamic in our group, especially on that last day had been awsome.

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But Trujillo was the place to part. We stayed together in the casa de ciclistas in Lucho’s house, where before us 860 other long distance cyclists  and within those a few legends had stayed. Flo, Chan and I are still here, waiting for my new credit card to arrive, while Rahel, Joerg and Steven left after two days and are off to Huaraz and Central Peru.

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Mitad del Mundo (9. Juli-5. August)

Posted by on Aug 11 2007 | 10 Ecuador 2007, English

Out of the clouds

Peeking out of the window it was white, the clouds denying us the view. We were sitting in our places, eating, drinking and playing with Chan, while far, far below us the landscape of a country went by, we woudn’t be able to apreciate on this voyage. Then, after about two hours in the clouds we began to descend and suddenly there was this huge sea of houses and cars. That was where we were going? Phuu! From one Millioncity into the next!

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While we were waiting to get through immigration, Rahel and Joerg (other swiss bikers we had met in Oregon for the first time and again in Panama City, www.affenbrunner.ch) had already gathered all our luggage and we went to customs. The officer waved us through, nothing had to be x-rayed! How different from the Panamian airport, where a dog had marked our bike box. We had to open the thouroughly taped box again and take out our tent, open it roll it out and let the dog sniff again until the police decided that the dog was only interested in the smell of the cartboard! Luckily Joerg had brought the rest of the tape and he helped Flo tape the box back together again.

Now in Quito, Ecuador, it was much easier. There were no dogs. Rahel and Joerg had already organized a taxi and we rolled off from the airport with all four bikes straped to the cab’s roof.

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One of the first things we all noticed was, that we could breath lightly. The air wasn’t thick with humidity anymore. It was warm in Quito, but not sweaty hot! how we all liked this climate at once! The first few days in Quito were all about getting organized again for the next part of our voyage. Again, we needed a few spare parts and Flo’s bike the attention of a mechanic. Finally, after three days acclimatisation, we were ready to head out of the city.

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But first we had to stop one more time at the bike shop to let the mechanic finish some work at the rear derailleur of Flo’s bike. While we were waiting for the bike, a man called TV Amazonas and they came to interview and film us. We finally rode out of Quito around midday. What a pleasure to be able to ride again at that time of the day and not having to hide in the shade!

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We headed north. We wanted to ride over the Equator ourselves! It was only about 50km north of Quito, a small detour! but how disoriented we felt. That flight had confused our sense of orientation completely. Our souls hadn’t arrived in Ecuador yet. That whole skipping Columbia had left a gap in our minds that can’t be filled. It is exactly why we enjoy the slow pace or our bikes. We can understand every meter we travel and our souls are keeping up and are not getting lost.

Firefighters

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Wow, we could feel the altitude now sitting on our bikes struggling uphill out of Quito! We sounded like some hippopotamus and we didn’t feel like we had travelled over 10’000km on our bikes. We only made it 36km far that first day and stayed in a hotel. Our next ride was again only 37km almost exclusivly uphill. The canyons were steep and the views incredible. Ecuador is a beautiful country especially after the monotony of the Panamerican highay in Panama.

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In Cayambe we stopped at one of the many bakeries selling their typical “bizochos”, a buttery, flaky cookie, when the commandante of the fire station invited us to stay with the firefighters for the night for free. We stayed with them for two nights and they took us for a ride in one of their big fire trucks into the next village. Chan was in paradise and enjoyed the stay with the “bomberos” even more than we did!
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Before we rode on the next day, we watched our five minute show in TV and then left to take a break only a few kilometers south of Cayambe at the Equator. There was a new sun dial monument (www.quitsato.org), where we could stand on that imaginary line around the globe.

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The middle of the world-mitad del mundo! The vulcano Cayambe stands almost perfectly on the Equator and it is the only place on it, where there is year round snow. A bit more to the south lies the highest point on the world, due to it’s pearlike shape, measured from the centre of the earth: Vulcano Chimborazo, which is the highest of the vulcanoes in Ecuador with a hight of 6310m.

Shortly after we crossed over to the southern hemisphere we met the first long distance cyclist in Southamerica. A woman from the US who is biking by herself from Vancouver to Ushuaia in less than a year, covering 100 to 130km per day!

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That night we put up our tent in the court yard of a fire station in a small village. There was no space for us to sleep inside, but we could camp with them and they gave Chan 6 firefighter helmets, flyers and a ride in their truck.

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It is supposed to be dry season and summer in Ecuador, at least in the highlands, where we are. But so far we had been rained on almost every day. We stopped in a bigger town to get groceries and had planned to ride on after it. But we were stuck in the supermarket for over two hours and above our heads the sky was growling and grumbling, lightening struck every minute or so and for a while it spit hale down onto us. Around 4pm we looked for the firefighters again and got a place to stay for free once more.

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South of Quito we reached the intersection to the Panamerican hwy. Now there was more traffic on this main highway through Ecuador from Quito to Guayaquil, the largest ecuadorian port. Right at the intersection an ATV rider stopped us and gave us a bag full of goodies. He had seen us the day before already and wanted to give us a gift. We took a break with view of the third highest mountain (vulcano) of Ecuador, the Cotopaxi.

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This part of the Panamerican Hwy. is called the “Avenida de los vulcanoes” and we were lucky to get glimpses of the giants although they are hiding in the clouds most of the time.

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On our way up the first pass over 3500m we got rained on again. But with our speed of 4-5km/h uphill, we soon left the rain behind and could take off our rain ponchos. It was a long climb and all of us needed a break at the gaz station shortly passed the summit. But the rain was quickly catching up to us and again we hurried on down hill this time now definately too fast for the rain. We stayed in a cosy little cabin in Lasso and enjoyed the last rays of the sinking sun before warming up under a nice hot shower.

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Since I had caught a cold we thought we would not ride far the next day. But the PanAm Hwy was dropping gently over a distance of about 20km when we arrived in Latacunga. We took a break at the plaza and checked our e-mail, but I wasn’t feeling comfortable in this town and wanted to ride on. Now the road was still easy to ride and when we got to the next town we had already decided to continue on to Ambato some 20km further.

Those last km were taking us down into canyons we had to climb again on the other side a few times before we arrived in Ambato and again found a place to stay with the bomberos. Ambato was a big labyrinth of streets with no signs for directions. We got really confused as to which road to take to ride over the next 3600m pass to Riobamba. On a steep uphill still in the centre of the city, my bike made a weird sound. I stopped and discovered that one side of my back rack was broken off the frame. We asked for a welder and were pointed accross the street. This welder believed the frame to be aluminium and couldn’t help us. But he led Flo to another one just down the street who fixed the frame for free!

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Through the city we then climbed higher and higher and needed to stop for lunch still at the outskirts of Ambato. There was no break from climbing up that day. Just higher and higher we pushed. Clouds rolled in and our ponchos were protecting us once more from the wetness. Although we had left Ambato really late, we still made it up to the summit at 3618m. At about 3400m I started to feel the altitude and had to walk my bike. Flo didn’t have any problems neither did Chan. At the summit the old railway station is now a mountain hostel. We were welcomed with a beautiful cup of herbal tea in front of a warming fire. It was cold up there but the place is so beautiful, that we stayed for two nights. Chan played with the owner’s daughter; they were flying kites and we enjoyed the magnificent view of Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest vulcano.

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Visitors

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Five long and strenuous days brought us from Riobamba to Cuenca. The landscape was still beautiful though there were no more snow caped mountains. The potholes on the highway grew more and more and finally there was no more pavement and the highway was all gravel road winding its way up and down steep mountain flanks and valleys. We camped on a soccer field in a tiny village and in the fenced in gardens of people’s houses. On one summit the wind almost blew us from the bikes and tried to send us back to where we came from. It blew with such force that we had to push the bikes uphill with the weight of our bodies and somethimes had to wait for a gust to settle down a bit.

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Neverthless, we made it to Cuenca a day after my father and his partner had arrived there.

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Chan loved his grand father he hadn’t seen for almost three years at once. Flo and I were completely out. “Big daddy” had to help him dress, play with him, prepare his food, comb his hair and go pee with him. For one week we visited the area and just enjoyed time together.

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Now they are off to northern Peru, then Lima and back to Switzerland. Our bikes got new shoes which will hopefully last for a long time. Chan got his library renewed and we could get rid of 15kg equipment we don’t need!

An interesting part of our voyage lies ahead of us in the backcountry of Ecuador towards Peru and in Peru. Lonely highways a lot of gravel and big mountain passes. We are both looking foreward to the next two weeks as well as anticipating it with much respect!

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